Many read this text and simply can’t believe what it says on the face of it. It seems to imply that rich folks cannot be saved. It seems to say in no uncertain terms that if you are a rich man, then your chances to get to heaven are so little that a Camel has a better chance of getting through an eye of a needle.
So due to the difficulties, we Christians have taken a very clear text and made it unclear. One of the things we have done is made up a gate that was allegedly called the “eye of the needle.” This gate was small. A camel could get through it, but the camel had to get on its knees and then crawl through the little opening. So it ain’t impossible. It is possible, just very difficult. I have seen preachers get on the ground and wiggle around as if to illustrate this alleged activity. Note that this interpretation says that it ain’t impossible, just very difficult.
Well. the problem with this is that the hearers of the text didn’t think Jesus was saying it was hard, but impossible. The disciples looked astonished and wondered “who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). Why would they be astonished if it was not impossible just very hard. Who then could be saved? Well the preachers who preached this tell us, all they have to do is get on their knees and crawl. But no that ain’t it. Jesus himself said with “humanity it is impossible but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26). But our preachers tell us that it is possible, it ain’t impossible.
No An eye of the needle is the same eye of the needle you have seen right now. Jesus meant for it to be impossible. Jesus wanted us to realize that the kingdom of God is not the kingdoms of this world. Jesus wanted us to realize that riches in this world do not guarantee right standing with God. Jesus wanted us to realize that it is impossible for a rich man to be saved in God’s coming Kingdom.
But then Jesus tells us that even God can do the impossible. You see these made up rules limit God’s power and emphasize humanity’s power. If the side of the city gate story were true then there would be something that that human could do to enter the kingdom. But no, Jesus reminds us that the only way into the kingdom is for God to take us there. No you can’t remove all your burden. No you can’t get on your knees. and No you can’t crawl to get in the eye of the needle. You need God to do something that we can’t even conceive.
With humanity this is impossible, but with God, All Things Are Possible, Amen.
Perhaps the most effective thing a preacher can do to strengthen the connection between the congregation and the scripture is to interpret the Bible with your senses. Here you use all of your senses when you seek to understand the scripture. Yes I mean touch, sight, taste, smell, and hear.
For example, let us assume that you are exegeting the story of the prodigal son for preaching. Exegesis is not done when you complete a historical, theological, and literary exegesis of the tex. You need to now walk up to the prodigal son on his way to the far away country in the story. Look at his face. What do you see? Do you see excitement? Do you see hope? Do you see desire? What do you see on the road? Do you see the one lane highway turning into a thoroughfare? Do you see the lights of the city at night and the skyline of the day? What do you smell? In my imagination I smell new cologne. I smell the new clothes that he has spent some of his money on. What do you hear? Do you hear the sounds of the city getting louder on the way to the city?
Now let’s turn it around to the road back home. What do you see? What do you see on the face of the son? Do you see desperation? Do you see a man wondering if he will be accepted? Do you see fear? How does his face look compared to how it looked on the way there? What do you smell? Now you may smell the young man. Instead of cologne perhaps you smell the perspiration that comes form weeks of hard labor without a bath.
Now explicitly connect what you have learned to the people in your sermon. When you do this, you are now in a position to understand and identify with the young man on a level that you could not before doing this analysis. Now you will be able to help the people understand the the son better. And if they understand the son better then they can appropriate the lessons better. You can then preach this story on a deeper level than you might have before. Now you are ready to put your sermon together with the added insight of human experience. It will provide examples, illustrations, and other important components to your sermons.